Thursday, May 15, 2008

On being human

This past weekend, Forest, one of our little green corollas, was loaded down with a mom, a dad, a baby, a dog, and a cat all headed from Muncie to Kentucky. What a ride.

We spent the weekend (including my first mother's day) with my family in Kentucky. It was beautiful -- a much-needed break in many ways. I had the breaks afforded me by all kinds of volunteer babysitters who like to help feed and entertain Israel. It was great. I think those cultures where families keep adding on to houses and everyone lives together have one up on us. I had all kinds of not-as-clear things to say about the experience, but really, whoever said, "Many hands make light work," said it best.

Pat and I took advantage of the free babysitting and the beautiful weather to go hiking. We realized I had not been hiking since before I was pregnant with Israel. That means it has been over a year! And we did not go camping last year, either! My soul had been malnourished from lack of mountains and woods. It is in those sorts of places I feel I come alive. I become contemplative. I enjoy small creatures (like the nearly-invisible one on my thumb here). I am happy in conversation or silence. I think about both my past and my future while enjoying every aspect of the moment I'm in. Life should be that way.

The place we visited was only about 15 minutes from my parents' house, a place called Raven's Run. It's a gorgeous place. We like to hike through the fields into the woods, down the side of something between a hill and a mountain, to the creek at the bottom by the shell of an old mill that stands near where the water breaks into all kinds of little waterfalls. A spider was swinging its web over the water when we were there this time; it should've been frightened. There were caterpillars everywhere and many had been stepped on along the paths. I took joy in picking them up, feeling their little legs tickle my hand, and putting them down in more appropriate places. Pat said this is the sort of thing that makes people think I'm weird. I said it seemed hypocritical to go somewhere to enjoy nature and then not to care if you killed all kinds of little animals while you were there. Pat decided to be weird right along with me. I knew I liked him.

I'm including on here a snippet of our conversation on our hike. Pat said I should, otherwise "it will just get lost in a bunch of videos and won't ever be used for anything." There is a certain turn of the path that inevitably makes us feel like we're in Lord of the Rings. This is the conversation that ensued. (Turn his up and turn mine down though...as you all know, I'm loud and he's kind of a mumbler.)

video
Pat: riding the line between a hobbit and a human

video
Lezlie: a human wishing to be an elf

It felt wonderful to be out and away from the normal life for a couple hours. (I can't imagine how great it will feel when we are able to go camping for a couple DAYS!) There was nothing to clean, no sounds of cars' stereo systems or squealing tires, no straight-lined structures (okay, expect for a little bridge here and there...). All around was the sound of water trickling, birds chirping, squirrels scampering, and leaves in the wind. I have been reading short stories by Tolstoy lately. In each of them, there is talk of the virtues of country life and the perils of life in the city with all its vice. While I disagree with the way his characters speak of the city as the cause of vice, as though one could not help being otherwise in the city, I can see his point.

There were a couple of times on our hike that I stopped to
notice a particularly striking tree that seemed to have died. I liked the structure of the trunk and was disappointed to find the tree standing there, dead. Both times, I was relieved to see leaves begin at the very top of the trunk, as though all hope was not lost and there was still life left in the thing. But upon closer inspection -- both times -- the piece of architecture tree was standing beside a thin, living tree that was growing up through it, causing it to appear alive when it was not. Being everywhere surrounded by other people's lives, sometimes I begin to be afraid that I am nothing more than an interesting piece of human architecture -- a shape that, while having a place among the goings-on, doesn't change or grow. When I feel myself slipping into the entirely-predictable mold I have made for myself, it is great to get away into the wild sights and sounds of nature and to be reminded that I am alive and part of a changing, growing world.

Pat said on our hike, "It feels like we belong here...like this is more our home than anywhere else." Perhaps, then, we really do live as "aliens and strangers" in the flat, urban landscape of Muncie with all its man-made sounds and problems -- perhaps more than we are sometimes aware. And that makes our times of retreat all the more special and wonderful. Just a short visit "home" to the woods and I come out feeling human and alive again, mindful that I am to grow.

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